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Senator Faisal Javed, senior leader of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), advised the Ministry of Information Technology and Telecommunication (MoITT) to clear the media houses’ advertisement dues within 45 days in order to ensure that journalists and media workers were paid their salaries. Analysts believe the decision may be helpful to address the challenges journalists are facing at the moment.

It is worth noting that the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and its affiliate the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) have strongly condemned the ‘wage theft’ epidemic led by media companies and calls on Pakistan’s government to review the industry and ensure all outstanding salaries are paid immediately.

Analysts believe that “the practice of delaying salary payments has become increasingly common in Pakistan with some of the worst offending media companies delaying payments by as much as ten months, despite journalists continuing to work and provide professional services. The term “death by stress” is now well-known”.

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Moreover, The IFJ and PFUJ have documented more and more cases of the extreme repercussions of non-payment of wages on media workers in the country in the past year. On January 21, Capital TV cameraman Fayyaz Ali (pictured) died of a cardiac arrest, attributed to the severe mental and financial pressures he faced at work. Fayyaz had not been paid for more than ten months and was fired the evening of his death. On November 27, 2019, S.M. Ifran, a journalist for News One TV, died from a stress-related heart attack. He had not been paid for seven months.

Mr. Javed, who happens to be the chairperson of the Senate Standing Committee on Information and Broadcasting, headed the meeting earlier in the day, with Senators Rukhsana Zuberi, Sajjad Hussain Turi, Pervaiz Rashid, and Rubina Khalid in attendance.

During the meeting, the Pakistan Broadcasters Association (PBA) raised the issue of the non-payment of ad dues to the Jang Group and Dawn Group, following which the senator assured them of working on resumption of ad payments to media houses. He further advised the MoITT to release a new ad campaign for the country’s broadcasting companies.

In response, PBA President Shakeel Masud Hussain said if the government paid its dues to media houses, the broadcasting companies were ready to disburse their workers’ salaries.

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The PBA also suggested that the government and media houses set up a joint account in order to make it easier for Prime Minister Imran Khan’s administration to pay what it owes to media houses, which, in turn, pay their employees.

Mir Ibrahim Rahman, Jang Group’s representative and a member of the PBA’s Board of Directors, added that government owed Rs 6 billion — which did not include dues from the government of Sindh — to the media houses. The payment should be done in full, and not in instalments, in order to clear the backlog of media workers’ unpaid salaries, Rahman stressed.

Rashid, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) senator, said economic pressure was being piled on media organisations to seize and suppress media freedom.

Asif Bhatti, the general secretary of both the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) and the Rawalpindi-Islamabad Union of Journalists (RIUJ), termed the non-payment of ad dues an unannounced ban on the freedom of expression.

Parliamentary Reporters Association (PRA) President Bahzad Saleemi demanded that the ad payments be tied to workers’ salaries.

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The federal information secretary, officials from the finance ministry, Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan (SECP), and the Employees Old-Age Benefits Institution (EOBI), as well as representative of the media owners’ organisations PBA and APNS, and journalists’ associations PRA, PJUF, and RIUJ also attended the session.

Former Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) directed the media houses to “beg or borrow, but pay the journalists their salaries” back in 2018. However, the problem continues to persist.

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